Skip to content

Skeleton Drafts

April 11, 2016

Today, I’d like to talk about drafts. Drafts are an integral part of writing because it is almost impossible to write things exactly the way you want them the first time around. Expressing your thoughts in a manner that is both clear and also engaging is not easy, and it generally requires some level of revision. This applies not only to things like essays but also to things like poems and novels.

What makes things a little bit tricky is that there are different types of drafts, and these different types of drafts often serve different purposes. Imagine that you’re writing a story that goes through a total of five revisions before being published. Your final revision will almost certainly be dedicated toward polishing what it already a good story until it absolutely shines. In contrast, your first revision is likely to be much rougher since you’re still trying to piece things together while thinking about what works and what doesn’t. The first revision is very much a work in progress whereas the fifth revision is a work that is almost complete.

Rather than go through all of the different types of drafts in one go, I’d like to focus on one particular type: skeleton drafts. To make things even simpler, I’ll be discussing skeleton drafts in the context of writing a story.

Simply put, a skeleton draft is the very first draft that you write. For a story, this means that the skeleton draft is the first time that you write the story out from start to finish. In other words, when you write a skeleton draft, you’re moving beyond jotting down ideas and brainstorming to writing down a proper story.

But why do I call the first draft the skeleton draft? I call it that to remind myself of the purpose that it serves: it is the foundation upon which all the other drafts build upon. In the same way that the skeleton provides a framework around which the muscles, ligaments, and tendons are centred, so too does the skeleton draft provide a framework for subsequent drafts to improve upon.

Think about the main components of a story:

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Themes/ideas
  • Technique

When you first start thinking about a story, you often start with bits and pieces for each of these components. It is generally rare for a story to appear in your mind fully formed. It is thus important to flesh out each of these components in a way that allows them to complement and support each other. In other words, you have to make the pieces fit. This is where the skeleton draft comes in.

Let’s say that you have some idea of how you want the plot to go. You’ve jotted down the details, and you have a step-by-step list of critical events that have to occur. But how do you really know that the plot will actually work the way you want it to? The only way to answer that is to write the story out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it certainly won’t be in a skeleton draft, but writing the story out from start to finish will help identify any major deficiencies or problems with the plot. The aim of the skeleton draft is not to produce a perfect piece of writing. On the contrary, the goal is to see whether the story you want to write can work.

We can apply the same line of thinking to the characters. You might have a very good idea of how you want the characters to be, but until you actually write them into the story, you won’t know if they come across the way you want them to. Do they have the right chemistry with each other? Do they fit in with the plot? For that matter, what are the characteristics that set your characters apart, and how are these characteristics conveyed to the reader? These questions cannot be answered through character profiles or brief notes. The characters must be brought to life, even if it’s only imperfectly in a very rough draft.

Each draft should have an objective. You might have one draft to address problems in grammar. You might have another draft to add some more detailed characterisation, so subtleties in the characters’ senses of humour are more evident to the reader. A skeleton draft is designed to answer one question, and it is a very simple one: can this story work? In other words, is it even possible to get the plot, characters, themes, settings, and ideas to fit together? Notice that I haven’t included technique here. Improving the technical aspect of a story (e.g., grammar and expression) is something that comes in later drafts. The skeleton draft is concerned only with finding out if the story can work, not with how it can be improved from good to great.

Here are some things to consider when you’re writing your skeleton draft, keeping in mind that the actual quality of the writing can be very rough indeed since polish can be added later:

  • Does the plot make sense?
  • Do I have the right characters in my story?
  • Can people understand the world the story is set in?
  • What kind of themes/ideas do I want to talk about in the story?

If you can write a skeleton draft in which the answers to all of these questions is ‘yes’, then your story is likely to be workable. You can then focus on improving and honing your story and each of its components.

When I’m writing a skeleton draft, I’m not concerned with the quality of the writing. I’m concerned with making sure that all of the pieces of the story are there and that they fit together the way I want them too. As a result, some parts of the skeleton draft can read quite roughly For example, my description of a bustling rain forest might be quite droll and pedestrian since I’m more concerned with writing down what elements I want to include and not with particularly engaging language. If I’m talking about someone’s magical powers, I won’t concern myself with making it inspiring reading. Instead, I’ll focus on making sure I include all of the important details about their powers, particularly the ones that are relevant to the plot and the other characters.

So, there you have it. The skeleton draft is the very first full draft that you write. It’s purpose is not to deliver a great and engaging story. On the contrary, its purpose is something much more mundane but equally important: its purpose is to make sure that the story works and that your first draft contains all of the necessary building blocks that will be refined and honed in subsequent drafts.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: